To many Americans, Presidents Day means retail sales and discounts or even a day off, if they’re lucky. But what is the holiday really about?
Presidents Day always falls on the third Monday in February. This year, the federal holiday is on Monday, Feb. 19.
The celebratory day was established in 1885 to commemorate President George Washington’s birthday, which was actually on Feb. 22.
Even before then, Washington was revered as one of the most important figures in American history and his birthday became a perennial day of remembrance, according to History.com.
Sen. Steven Wallace Dorsey of Arkansas was the first to propose the federal holiday, and in 1879, President Rutherford B. Hayes signed it into law. Initially, the holiday, called “Washington’s Birthday,” only applied to the District of Columbia. But in 1885, the celebration expanded to include the entire country.
Over the years, some states adopted the holiday to celebrate either Washington or former presidents Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson.
The day is still officially called “Washington’s Birthday” but it became popularly known as Presidents Day after it was moved as part of 1971’s Uniform Monday Holiday Act, an attempt to help the nation’s workers enjoy more three-day weekends.
It was the first holiday to celebrate the life of an individual American. The next would be Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, which was signed into law in 1983.
Today, Presidents Day is considered a day to celebrate all American presidents, past and present. Around the country, patriotic and historical groups hold events and celebrations and schools often teach students about the accomplishments of American presidents.
Last year, however, thousands of protesters across the country used their Monday off to protest President Donald Trump in “Not My Presidents Day” rallies.
“While we acknowledge that Donald Trump holds the current title, the policies he’s trying to put in place are not the beliefs shared by the majority of the people,” Nova Calise, one of the organizers of the New York event, told USA Today.